Bill would create rules for county clerks and same-sex marriage

Posted at 6:54 PM, Mar 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-06 20:18:29-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new bill unveiled late Thursday on Utah's Capitol Hill attempts to address government clerks who may be reluctant to perform same-sex marriages, warning that they could lose the ability to marry anyone at all.

Senate Bill 297, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, articulates the situation for county clerks and their workers who may have a religious objection to same-sex marriage -- but guarantees that someone will perform the marriage.

"You’ve got to have somebody to do that. We mandate that a county clerk has to do it or find somebody to do that," Sen. Adams told FOX 13.

SB297 says there can be no retaliation against clerks who have a religious objection to same-sex marriage (or even marriage counselors). The bill also prohibits people from requiring a religious official or organization to provide goods or accommodations contrary to their belief (or even performing a marriage against their beliefs).

But when it comes to the marriage license itself, Sen. Adams said, someone in the community must be able to do it.

"If no one in the community can do it, the clerk has to," Sen. Adams said.

However, the bill states that even then -- if no one will perform a same-sex marriage -- then no marriage licenses will be issued in the county, gay or straight.

In a statement to FOX 13, the LGBT rights group Equality Utah said it does not support the bill.

"We were actively involved in the crafting of SB296 with Senators Urquhart and Adams. We are very pleased with the progress we have made collaborating with the various stakeholders. However, we were not consulted on the drafting of the language of SB297," the group said in a statement late Thursday.

"We are worried that broad individual exemptions may be granted to an unlimited amount of people. We will not support any legislation that may adversely impact the fundamental rights of LGBT Utahns."

Marina Lowe, Legislative and Policy Counsel for the ACLU, said they were troubled by the proposal.

"Regardless of if there is somebody else who is willing to step in and do it, when you take on the business of serving the public as a member of the government, you know, it is our position that you don't get to pick and choose which members of the public that you serve," she told FOX 13 News.

Adams said his bill protects people caught in the middle.

"Sometimes when you're in the middle you get arrows shot at you both ways," he said. "So what 297 does is simply try to deal with what we've been dealt with by the court's action that we have same-sex marriages. So, we need to do that in a very respectful, very dignified, orderly way."

The bill is scheduled to have a hearing on Friday afternoon.

Same-sex marriage was made legal in Utah last year after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state's appeal of two federal court rulings overturning Amendment 3. A federal judge in Salt Lake City and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage violated gay and lesbian couples' equal rights.